During his trip to London, Mitt Romney pledged to return the famous bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office. Charles Krauthammer wrote about that promise Thursday, noting President Obama's reported spiteful treatment of the bust (and the British who loaned it to the US after 9-11 as a symbol of solidarity and friendship). That story has been in the national conversation since January 2009, when President Obama reportedly sent it packing.
The White House has responded today on its blog, in a befuddling post claiming that the story of the return of the bust is "100% false."
Lately, there’s been a rumor swirling around about the current location of the bust of Winston Churchill. Some have claimed that President Obama removed the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and sent it back to the British Embassy.
Now, normally we wouldn’t address a rumor that’s so patently false, but just this morning the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer repeated this ridiculous claim in his column. He said President Obama “started his Presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office.”
This is 100% false. The bust still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room.
The White House post claims that "news outlets have debunked this claim time and again," and links to a couple of stories that say the bust was moved to the White House residence. One of those is behind a firewall, and the other, published by the AP, asserts without providing any evidence that the bust is still in the White House.
The White House blog does provide a picture of what it says is the president showing the bust to British PM David Cameron, but the picture is tiny (200x133 resolution) and provides no persuasive proof that the bust seen in the photo is the same one that the UK lent the US. There aren't enough pixels in the pic to be able to use it as evidence one way or the other. Here is that picture, pixel for pixel.
In an update to its post, the White House tries to clarify:
Since my post on the fact that the bust of Winston Churchill has remained on display in the White House, despite assertions to the contrary, I have received a bunch of questions -- so let me provide some additional info. The White House has had a bust of Winston Churchill since the 1960’s. At the start of the Bush administration Prime Minister Blair lent President Bush a bust that matched the one in the White House, which was being worked on at the time and was later returned to the residence. The version lent by Prime Minister Blair was displayed by President Bush until the end of his Presidency. On January 20, 2009 -- Inauguration Day -- all of the art lent specifically for President Bush’s Oval Office was removed by the curator’s office, as is common practice at the end of every presidency. The original Churchill bust remained on display in the residence. The idea put forward by Charles Krauthammer and others that President Obama returned the Churchill bust or refused to display the bust because of antipathy towards the British is completely false and an urban legend that continues to circulate to this day.
But the White House's entire post flies in the face of contemporaneous reporting in the British press in January 2009.
A British Embassy spokesman said: "The bust of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein was uniquely lent to a foreign head of state, President George W Bush, from the Government Art Collection in the wake of 9/11 as a signal of the strong transatlantic relationship.
"It was lent for the first term of office of President Bush. When the President was elected for his second and final term, the loan was extended until January 2009.
"The new President has decided not to continue this loan and the bust has now been returned. It is on display at the Ambassador's Residence."
That would be, the British Ambassador's Residence, in Washington. Not the White House.
I rang up the British Ambassador's Residence in Washington this afternoon to find out the whereabouts of the bust, but so far they have "no new information" to supply. So the mystery continues.